Cisco Systems is going after customer-contact centres and unified messaging markets with its new Internet Communications Software Group.
The Internet Communications Software Group itself consists of two business units. The first is the Customer Contact Business Unit, and the second is the Unified Communications Software Business Unit.
The Customer Contact Business Unit is based on two companies Cisco purchased, WebLine Communications, specialising in software for Web-based customer service, and GeoTel Communications, which markets the Intelligent Contact Management product for routing incoming customer phone calls to appropriate customer-service representatives.
The Unified Communications Unit has its roots in the Amteva Technologies acquisition with what's now the Cisco Unified Open Network Exchange (uOne) voice messaging product.
Eugene Lee, vice president of marketing at the Internet Communications Software Group, recently spoke about Cisco's plans on both fronts.
In the Customer Contact Business Unit, Cisco plans on building a "software platform" that will be able to integrate Web-based e-mail, chat, IP-based voice and collaboration capabilities with the phone-based customer relationship management applications presently found in call centres.
The applications found most frequently today in call centres are those from vendors like Siebel Systems, Clarify, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Baan. According to AMR Research, these vendors' total sales reached $US1.57 billion last year and are expected to climb to $2.5 billion this year. That's hardly the total market, though, since a category of "others", including Web-focused startups such as Cisco acquisition WebLine, accounted for another $2.2 billion last year.
Although these established application vendors face a formidable challenger in Cisco, the largest networking company, Lee emphasises a strategy under which Cisco intends to merely "coexist" with the likes of Oracle and PeopleSoft in the call centre.
"Our strategy is to partner with vendors such as Oracle," Lee claims, seeking to dispel any notion that Cisco will be developing applications to sell directly against them.
However, Cisco does plan new products that will compete head-on with Lucent Technologies' PBX and Nortel Networks' automatic call distribution (ACD) equipment, and any vendor that makes the time-division multiplexers (TDM) used in call centres today. These Cisco products will offer a platform for converging voice and IP, Lee says.
Cisco's strategy will be to recommend that managers operating call centres continue to use ACD and TDM equipment, but "lease, not buy it".
"We're going to coexist, interoperate with but eventually replace" ACD and TDM gear, Lee says. In the next few months, Cisco plans to have yet more to say about this software platform for overhauling the call centre by combining telephone calls with Web-based customer management.
In the arena of unified messaging, Lee says that the newly created Cisco business unit plans to extend the capabilities in the Cisco uOne voice messaging product to provide universal access to Web content from a phone. "Our uOne software platform will eventually support XML on the back end to enable transactions on the Web," Lee promises. Cisco isn't making a delivery date for that kind of functionality yet, though.